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Body-Words of Love

I am fashioned as a galaxy,
Not as a solid substance but a mesh
Of atoms in their far complexity
Forming the pattern of my bone and flesh. 

Small solar systems are my eyes,
Muscle and sinew are composed of air.
Like comets flashing through the evening skies
My blood runs, ordered, arrogant, and fair.
Ten lifetimes distant is the nearest star,
And yet within my body, firm as wood,
Proton and electron separate are.
Bone is more fluid than my coursing blood.
What plan had God, so strict and empassioned
When He an island universe my body fashioned?
-Madeleine L’Engle

I am thinking tonight a lot about bodies. . .

. . . because of my in-laws who continue to struggle with their diagnoses of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.  Helplessness at a body that is slowly failing and no longer responds the way it once did.  I am reminded of the many times I helped my mother with simple tasks in the years before she died.  The act of slipping socks over her feet became my song of love to her.

. . . because of a friend whose baby is sick with fever and vomiting as she cares for her and tends to her needs.  The soothing hands of a mother stroking damp skin as a balm for the body’s tenderness. 

. . . because of the migraines that have been coming more frequently lately and I find myself fighting against them instead of releasing to their demands.  My body is inviting me into rest, why do I resist?

. . . because of my sweet dog Tune who craves the affection that has been denied her for so many years and I wonder if I can ever make up for that loss.  Can I ever console her enough that she forgets her fear of being abandoned?

In the midst of so much exquisite fragility and tenderness, I am reminded too of the delight my body brings.  In the pleasure of a long hot bath, the wondrous touch of my beloved, a nourishing meal, the feel of rain on skin.  The marvelous wonder of bodies makes me dizzy.  I am fashioned as a galaxy, L’Engle writes in her poem.  I contain a vast sea within me of pulsing, beating, dancing beauty that is as wide as the universe.

We live in a culture that is obsessed with bodies and has made the quest for perfection of the body and denial of death into a multi-million dollar industry.  We are not taught how to live with the ambiguity that comes with embodied life, only to examine ourselves in parts.  We don’t know how to be with our sexuality in healthy and healing ways.

Theologian James Nelson writes: “Our human sexuality is a language as we are both called and given permission to become body-words of love. Indeed our sexuality—in its fullest and richest sense—is both the physiological and psychological grounding of our capacity to love.”

Body-words of love.   That phrase takes my breath away.  How do I allow my very body to become the fullest expression of love and tenderness in the world?  This body with its aches and  its loveliness.  This body that will one day become dust, but also sprang from my mother in a burst of desire for life. In all this attention we give to the perfection of the body, we undermine our capacity to become body-words of love.  We forget that we are called to the joy and the sorrow woven together.  No surgery can excise our mortality.  No procedure can remind us of our sheer giftedness, gift given to each other.

What are the ways you experience your body as a galaxy?  What are its delights and pains? Is there an opening in the midst of these where you can pour forth love?

-Christine Valters Paintner @ Abbey of the Arts

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5 Responses

  1. Songbird, growing older does bring a whole new awareness of the body, much of it difficult to be with, doesn’t it?

    Cheryl, I love women who are older and so comfortable in their own skin, what a beautiful witness to the beauty of aging and wisdom years.

    Thanks Shaula!

    Hi Suz, glad you found your way over here. I left another post at the old site just to clarify in case anyone has been confused. There are always hiccups to any moving process. I think that cycling is normal, especially in our culture, and illness does indeed ask a whole new set of questions.

    Blessings, Christine

  2. I just found you again. I didn’t know that this was your permanant new site…do you think any others are confused as I was?

    Seems like I have cycled in and out with this one (body love) for over a thousand times. It’s not easy and illness brings a whole new dimension to learning to love an imperfect body.

    Thanks Christine! Thought-provoking as always.

  3. Christine,

    The phrase “body-words of love” resonate with my soul. I ask myself how I might more fully bring my body as a gift to the world in how comfortable I increasingly am in my own skin. As you mentioned the frenzy in society toward maintaining youth forever, I desire to be invitational to myself and others for us to enjoy our own bodies today and each day for the rest of our lives. I am meeting many vibrant women lately who are older than I am and whose facial wrinkles seem to be embraced right alongside passion for life, relationships, and peace in the world. May I watch their faces and embrace my own as I invite others to do the same.

  4. Thank you for the images and the questions, too. At midlife I feel my history in my body, and frankly fear some aspects of the future in it as it becomes harder to bounce back from illness or injury.